Holy crap is this movie ever good!
It’s what the Mission Impossible movies– any of them, take your pick– wishes it could be: not one, but TWO highly trained, highly principled men who use their skills to try and make good of a neighbourhood that all but a few have given up on: Banlieue 13, a hellish slum surrounded by a high wall and razorwire on the outskirts of Paris, overrun by gangs and drug dealers and rife with corrupt police who resent having to be there.
In fact, in this supposed future (2010), the police have been ordered to pull out entirely, following postal service and schools. Pockets of civility try to thrive, such as the apartment building of Leito, one of the aforementioned do-gooders. Like-minded folk guard the building as a safe place for children and old people, who spend their days sleeping or watch TV for lack of school or jobs.
Trouble is around every corner, never as much as when the local gang leader gets his hands on a nuclear weapon! That’s when Damien, a hotshot cop who still believes in “liberte, egalite, fraternite” is called in to go undercover and stop the countdown that has accidentally been started. His mission is to recruit Leito (who is ethnically vague, as opposed to blonde blue-eyed Damien) to help him out. And Leito has his own stake in this: not only do the bad guys have the bomb, they have also kidnapped his sister.
Amazing fights ensue, of course, but that’s nothing compared to the chases. Except for a few moments here and there, it’s all on foot and you have never seen anything like them. And the boys have the bodies that go along with such monkey-like strength and agility.
More amazing (yes, it JUST KEEPS COMING) is that the film is French, and that it was released there in 2004, predating the ACTUAL suburban race riots in 2005 that had people worriedly discussing the “problems” of immigration and multiculturalism, or the version of it that they have in Europe.
The film addresses the problems that are the result of colonialism: immigrants who, while having lived as French subjects in North Africa or other French outposts in Asia or the Caribbean, are not accepted as being French in France, and the alienation, unemployment, and poverty of the youth who live in the slums. And on the other side of things, the exasperation of the government and police who feel, as the residents of the slums do, that the situation is hopeless.
The alliance between Leito and Damien are meant to represent the common goals of immigrants and Frenchmen alike: peace, the opportunity for everyone to flourish and contribute to society, and to bring down those who benefit from the suffering of others,or even worse,to benignly ignore the pleas of those who need help. A no-brainer, and we love to see the good guys win.
It’s really amazing. And I think the few people who showed up to see an action flick and were disappointed that it was subtitled quickly got over it once we started to see some serious ass-kicking/foot chases. All this courtesy of Luc “The Fifth Element” Besson, who has once again proven that sometimes it takes a French man to make the ultimate popcorn-crunching, heroic ideals-touting whiz-bang stylish Hollywood movie.